What does “Maryland 400” mean?

The term “Maryland 400” seems obvious enough—isn’t it the number of soldiers from Maryland who fought at the Battle of Brooklyn? A recent news story about the battle, for example, referenced the “regiment of just 400 Maryland soldiers” who took on the British. The meaning, however, is more than just a matter of arithmetic. [1]

The name “Maryland 400” dates to the late nineteenth century. The earliest use of the name I have seen comes from 1895. In that year, the Maryland Society of the Sons of the American Revolution, the organization which sponsors this project, produced a publication to raise funds for the construction of the monument to the Maryland 400 that now stands in Brooklyn. It referred both to “Maryland’s Four Hundred and “our Maryland Four Hundred.” [2]

The monument to the Maryland 400, built by the Maryland SAR in 1895, in Prospect Park, Brooklyn

That same year, The Spirit of ’76 magazine published an article entitled “The Maryland ‘Four Hundred,’” which concluded with the assertion that “Maryland may well be proud to accept and honor these men as her ‘four hundred.’” An article in the Baltimore Sun from 1895 referred to “Maryland’s Noble 400.”  In 1897, a book listing descendants of Battle of Brooklyn veterans called Gassaway Watkins “one of the ‘immortal Maryland 400.’” [3]

Were there in fact 400 soldiers from Maryland at the Battle of Brooklyn? Overall, there were a lot more than that—close to 1,000. While every company of Marylanders saw combat and suffered casualties, the greatest losses were suffered by the five companies who were unable to escape the battlefield. As the Maryland Historical Magazine wrote in 1919, “The records show that the principal loss…fell upon the companies of Captains Daniel Bowie, Benjamin Ford, Barton Lucas, Peter Adams and Edward Veazey, consisting in all of about 400 men.” [4]

Chart from the Maryland Historical Magazine

The article’s math wasn’t quite correct—Lucas, Bowie, and Adams were supposed to have 74 officers and men in their companies, while Ford’s had 78 and Veazey’s 106, and it is unlikely that the stand of the “Maryland 400” was composed by all of the men from these companies, and only those companies. Still, for all intents and purposes, 400 soldiers is about right.

However, there are several other elements that contribute to the meaning of “Maryland 400.” To begin with, it may have been intended as an allusion to the Spartan 300, the soldiers who defeated a much larger Persian army at the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC. This connection was drawn most recently by Chris Formant, author of Saving Washington, a novel about the Battle of Brooklyn, who calls the Marylanders “America’s 400 Spartans.” The end of the nineteenth century, when the term “Maryland 400” came into use, saw a lot of interest in ancient Greece and Rome, and the parallel to the Spartans may have been obvious to many. [5]

There is one other level of significance to “Maryland 400.” Beginning in the 1880s, New York high society came to be defined by the “four hundred,” the exclusive listing of Gilded Age elite. First published in the New York Times in 1892, the group defined who mattered among the city’s wealthiest and most fashionable. It is probably not a coincidence that “Maryland 400” came into use about the same time. [6]

For example, the 1895 magazine article quote above referred to the men who fought at Brooklyn as “her [Maryland’s] ‘four hundred,’” (emphasis in the original) implicitly comparing the Maryland soldiers with the four hundred upper-class New Yorkers. Another author made the connection even more explicitly. Speaking in 1901 at the American Bankers’ Association annual meeting, Wesley Oler, Maryland’s representative, related that

We have always been busy in Maryland…We were busy there in 1776, too, when Maryland’s “400” saved the Continental Army and thus gave the title “400” to the country…We are still busy…busy trying to keep wealthy and aristocratic young men of the country, who claim now to be members of the 400, from carrying off and marrying our pretty girls. [7]

The soldiers who fought at the Battle of Brooklyn, thus, were the cream of Maryland’s society, just as New York had 400 people in its upper echelon.

Was one of these the primary inspiration for the term “Maryland 400?”  It is difficult to say for sure. It does appear likely that the phrase “four hundred,” referring to the most important members of a group, originated in New York in the late 1880s or early 1890s. Nevertheless, there are strong arguments pointing to the significance of the Greek allusion and the literal number of Maryland soldiers who took part in the last stand. In truth, different people may have used the term with different allusions in mind.

For our part, the staff of Finding the Maryland 400 have always believed that focusing on only one portion of the regiment is a mistake. All the soldiers contributed to the battle, whether they did so in a group of 400 or not.



1.“Battle of Brooklyn 2019: What to Do, Where to Go,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 15 August 2019. Only one person has ever asked me if the Maryland 400 was a car race, like the Indianapolis 500.

2. See also National Year Book 1895, Sons of the American Revolution, 196.

3. Emphasis in the original. “The Maryland ‘Four Hundred.’” The Spirit of ’76, August 1895, 250; “Heroes Were They,” The Sun (Baltimore), 24 August 1895; Henry Whittemore, The Heroes of the American Revolution and their Descendants. Battle of Long Island (1897), Supplement I, 65.

4. “Battle of Long Island,” Maryland Historical Magazine 14:2 (Jun 1919), 113.

5. Chris Formant, Saving Washington (New York: Permuted Press, 2019), back cover text. See also Saving Washington on GoodReads.

6. “The Only Four Hundred,” The New York Times, 16 February 1892.

7. The Maryland ‘Four Hundred’”; “American Bankers’ Association, Twenty-Seventh Annual Convention, First Day’s Proceedings,” The Bankers’ Magazine 63 (1901), 798.

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5 Responses to What does “Maryland 400” mean?

  1. lisah61 says:

    Owen, thank you so much for the research you did to write this article. It was very interesting to learn more about the historical reference of the Maryland 400. Lisa Oakley


  2. Bettye Ann Garner says:

    Wonderful information. Searching for Greenbury Gosnell of Md. Thank you!


  3. Cathy Laltrelli says:

    Another great article…when I first heard of the 400, I couldn’t believe that they had been totally lost to history until this current quest. Understanding that they weren’t forgotten, in fact their memory was kept alive, is happy news. Thank you for sharing the primary source accounts of how they were referenced and remembered.


  4. I love the amount of research that went into finding the origin of the name. We knew it came much later than the actual events and the number of 400 was generally in the right area for the number that likely held off the British in that final hold on the area while the rest evacuated but it is so informative to learn how it was connected to the use of 400 richest in that period and the Spartan 300 which we saw alluded to often with the Roman and Greek references to the soldiers and fighting the last stands, etc. Great work by the archives again to bring this whole project into perspective. I believe we found a few articles prior to the 1895 date that you noted using the Maryland 400 reference as early as 1892-4. I can find and send them to you directly if you are interested but this doesn’t take away from the article in any way that the name came into being around the 1890s in remembrance and honor of these actual 1776 events and men.


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